A top official of the umbrella Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) said today someone should have been held criminally responsible for the recent imbroglio at Springer Memorial Secondary School that led to a 14-year-old student being absent from the classroom for over two months.
Addressing a large gathering of teachers in Queen’s Park, BUT Public Relations Officer Dwane Goddard made direct reference to the Springer incident, as he sought to chastise Minister of Education Ronald Jones over his refusal to give the union a hearing.
Goddard noted the student, who was barred from re-entering the classroom after she refused a teacher’s order to pick up a wrapper, should have been suspended for a maximum of 20 days.
“So when you have anything past that, somebody should be charged,” the BUT spokesman told the gathering.
“But no, rather than charging somebody, we end up sending [the student] to a private school that somebody got to pay for, and the Minister met with them on a Sunday and we only want to meet with him for [an] hour or two,” Goddard said to cheers from BUT members.
However, the union spokesman sought to make it clear that the problem of violence and indiscipline in schools runs much deeper than either the Springer Memorial incident or the other well-publicized incident which occurred last month at Ellerslie Secondary involving a teacher and a student, even though he described these incidents as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
While making a veiled reference to the Ellerslie episode, in which a student reportedly spat on and kicked a teacher, Goddard called for changes to be made to the country’s education laws, which he said were created in the 1960’s and 70’s and were now “irrelevant”.
“In those days a student would not dare spit on a teacher. They would swallow the spit and go home and they better not tell the parents anything because they would get another set [of punishment].
“So we need to have our legislation updated. And I talk about things like parents being fined $50 when they don’t send their children to school. Those sorts of things want changing, people,” said Goddard.
In addition, the educator suggested that if authorities here were not aware of how to fix the issues, they should seek best practices from other jurisdictions, including Argentina.
“They do not deal with the issues at hand. That is what is bothering me. We keep talking about each child matters, but how can they matter if all we do is transfer them and let the behaviours continue? We don’t address the behaviour,” he said.
“We cannot afford to keep transferring the problem. I strongly suggest that we sit down with members of the Barbados Defence Force and look at a system of boot camp in Barbados. And not one like the Edna Nicholls [Centre] or that school up there by Erdiston [for deviant children], because those are an expensive waste of time,” he added.
During his presentation, which was interspersed with music, including calypsonian John King’s popular song, How Many More, Goddard also highlighted violent incidents in which students lost their lives.
He asked: “How many more? How many more do we need to see cut down in the prime of their lives before we take action?
“I sincerely hope that those people at the riverside [Ministry of Education] are not waiting on one of us to be killed before they take action . . . So are we wrong for fearing for our lives? I think not. If we don’t stand for something we will fall for everything,” he said.
The union official also criticized Jones for speaking in Parliament yesterday on issues relating to health, instead of the current problems facing his ministry.
“I want our goodly minister to leave that to the Ministry of Health and attend to the people who he is responsible for,” Goddard suggested.
As for Government’s controversial plan to allow cell phone use in both primary and secondary schools, which Jones has said could be implemented as early as September, the teachers’ spokesman warned that it would do more harm than good.
Goddard said implementing such a policy meant students would use the mobile devices for personal use instead of learning, which for him translates into more work for teachers and greater indiscipline in the schools.
“One of the things that disgusts me is that I thought teachers were stakeholders in education . . . Somebody has been asking about teachers’ views on the cell phone policy. I don’t know what they ask for it for, because our views are that they really should not even do it. But every week you hear the minister promising that it is coming. We hear that it is coming and that is going to bring more violence, you hear,” warned Goddard.
He pointed out that “much of the nonsense” teachers were currently dealing with in schools ends up on cell phones, arguing that based on the devices that were already in the school system, one out of every ten children is doing something “productive” with the devices, while the other nine are doing “counterproductive stuff”.
“They are taking sexual videos [and] they are YouTubing when they should be listening to you teaching. They are doing all sorts of other things. So all of a sudden now our jobs have another job description come September, because . . . we have to be inspecting what goes on on these devices. And don’t be fooled, colleagues, the children know how to use them better than you,” Goddard said. (MM)